Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Late January Garden and Yard Update

As I’m about to begin my short WINGS tour in Baja California Sur, it’s a good time to post some photos from the yard with an update on my wonderful winter vegetable garden here in Tucson. After the passage of two cold fronts in three days that delivered about 3/4 of an inch of rain, we’ve had five nights of frost, the lowest temperature being this past Thursday morning and yesterday at 26.6°F  (-3°C). The nasturtiums, tomatoes, and basil can’t handle those temperatures, so I put a frost cloth over the 93 square feet of garden.

Amazingly, the tomatoes made it, and this one seems to be very slowly growing four tomatoes. This is a plant I first put in the garden last March, which limped along all summer, not getting enough rain (too much competition from the mesquite tree), not setting any fruit (too hot all summer), it and barely survived my transplanting in early October (though it clearly liked the new soil and availability of moisture). The other tomato is a volunteer seedling.

Some of the nasturtiums look a little frost burned but their growing points survived. This was the first flower, exactly 12 weeks after sowing.

This is mizuna, or Japanese mustard greens.
Mizuna, Japanese mustard

Turnip Tokyo Market
Turnip Tokyo Market

My favorite for flavor, abundance, and the most lush growth of all my plants are the snow peas, Oregon Sugar Pod. I’ve picked two bowls full already.
snow pea, Oregon Sugar Pod

The Broad-billed and Anna’s Hummingbirds regularly visit the flowers for nectar.
snow pea, Oregon Sugar Pod

I have a few other flowers growing and surviving the frost including marigolds and some snapdragons.

Lots of things are volunteering too, some native plants, some weeds that I pull up (especially Sisymbrium irio, London Rocket), and some poppies that continue from a sowing I did in 1998. But I have no idea what this volunteer is; it looks like no weed or plant that I’ve sown over the years, so I’m letting it grow until I can see some identifiable flowers or fruit.

There are other things going on around the yard too. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed moss growing in our yard. I watered around some of the trees and shrubs a few times in November and December, and since the end of last year we’ve been having some decent amounts of rain, so that may be what has encouraged it.

I also noticed patches of cryptobiotic soil, or biological soil crusts, a sign of a very happy community of microorganisms. This is probably mostly a lichen, but there may be some tiny bits of moss, algae, and cyanobacteria living in here too.

The hummers continue to be abundant, and I’m now keeping up 13 feeders. Anna's Hummingbird is the most abundant, possibly as many as 30 or 40 in the yard over the course of a full day. This is a female.
Anna's Hummingbird

I may have as many as 10 to 15 Broad-billed Hummingbirds, though at any one moment you can see only about five. This is an immature male.
Broad-billed Hummingbird

And for the first time ever, I’ve had multiple Costa's Hummingbirds in the yard all winter. The usual pattern has been for one to show up for a day or two every few weeks – or one will stay at most for a week in late January. There are at least two males (one immature without the long flanges of this adult), and two females that are now present all the time, since at least October. This is a region-wide pattern this year, with a record 83 being tallied on the Tucson Valley CBC last month.
Costa's Hummingbird, male

The female Costa’s Hummingbird is often mistaken for female Anna’s or especially Black-chinned, due to the very clean, pale appearance of the underside, especially the throat. But we never get Black-chinned in the winter (at least not from November to late February), and their voices are very different.
Costa's Hummingbird, female

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